Maria Ochoa Llido opening address

Post Conference Press Release by qSPORT: 

On Friday, 2nd of March 2012, Split/CROATIA hosted an extraordinary conference under the title Conte[s|x]ting SPORT , which engaged almost a hundred international, regional and local participants. The speakers included government representatives, policy makers, advocates, expert consultants, academic researchers, elite athletes, media and sport professionals, and most importantly, sport organizers and enthusiasts. The conference was opened with addresses by Ms Maria Ochoa-Llidó, representing the Council of Europe, and Mr Krešimir Šamija, a representative of the Croatian Ministry of Science, Education and Sports. 

"Croatia, Dalmatia as its Mediterranean region and especially the city of Split have an amazing track record in competitive sports (highest number of Olympians per capita), but are lagging behind when it comes to human rights, participation and visibility of minorities in sport, or in sustainable models of sport organizing " - notes Željko Blaće, researcher and activist of qSPORT and one of the conference organisers.

In a full day program, sport was examined through the lens of Inclusion, Diversity and Sustainability, in contrast to the dominant topics of sport management, efficiency and feasibility - areas that generate results in competition. The format of the day included workshops, panels and keynotes, several working meetings and, of course, provided an opportunity for informal networking among the participants (for some South Eastern Europeans it was the first time to take part in such event). 

The conference covered all levels of sport from grass-roots to competitive sport, through presentations of good practices (diversity policies of Rugby Football League, the Marlin Swimming Club for trans individuals and anti-homophobia work of the Norwegian Olympic Committee) and experiences from sport networks (like Football Against Racism in Europe, the Balkan Alpe Adria project and the European Gay and Lesbian Sport Federation), campaigns (like The Justin Campaign), case studies (legal cases against homophobic statements uttered by Croatian sport officials) and programs (like Media Against Racism in Sports).  

Ivan Ergić in auditorium

The morning panel on regional dynamics focused on the process of (economic and political) Transition (in post-1990s war South East Europe), while the evening panel centered around Inclusion-Participation within the pyramid of sport. Both were exceptionally well received and provided material for a rewarding debate. The highlights of the program were opening and closing keynotes, by Ivan Ergić, and John Amaechi, respectively. Ivan is an elite international football player and writer, who provided a critical analysis of hyper-commercialized sport (where athletes' bodies are relegated to means of meeting financial goals), and John is a management consultant, former NBA player and psychologist, who talked about racial, sexual and class discrimination, as well as psychological and emotional aspects of sports for both youth and professionals. 

The conference concluded with the message that much remains to be done within existing sport structures to render them truly Inclusive, Diverse and Sustainable. Sport should be reflected on and regularly contested through critical analysis; not just accepted as a route to competition. It is naive to imagine that sport is autonomous and independent as its context and conditions are determined by sponsored financial and media support, and as diverse trans-local struggles against economic disadvantages and legal constraints arising from race/ethnic, gender or sexual orientation identities have meant reduced access and visibility for some.

Louise conference co-organizers

The conference participants provided feedback and pointed out that in order to achieve systemic change there is a pressing need for action across different fields from early education of kids/youth to training professionals in sport and media, but they also called for educating and sanctioning those who participate in violence and hooliganism in sport. Such work needs greater understanding, solidarity and support among all stakeholders, which can be achieved through empathy and a deeper understanding of the "Other" and each-other. Conferences like this provide a temporary platform for meeting and exchange, but are in need of practical follow-up.
The organizers will produce documentation and supporting material in the form of a reader and an electronic publication, hoping that the content and contacts provided will foster sustainable collaboration in the future.

"It was inspiring to see such diversity of activists, policy makers and sports organizers from Europe's communities discussing cutting edge work in challenging LGBTQ-phobias and creating solutions for LGBTQ inclusion" - explains Louise Englefield, conference co-organizer and former co-president of EGLSF.

The day after the Conference, EGLSF held its general assembly. Some of the positive momentum of the conference values was embraced and used in a community initiative to self-organize a global LGBTQ sport event in 2018 - articulated through the SPLIT DECLARATION.  Local and regional media representatives (Slobodna DalmacijaH-Alter and OneWorldSEE) following the Conference reported on the themes and participants, especially pointing out the fact that the event took place in Split/CROATIA under rigorous police protection.

About conference organizers:
EPAS as a sport body for the Council of Europe has dedicated its work in 2012 to Homophobia in Sport and has partnered with EGLSF to co-organize 3 conferences during this year, starting with the one in Split, followed by Budapest in June and later on in Rotterdam. qSPORT as an EGLSF member has done pioneering work in instigating and networking LGBTQ sport initiatives in the region of South East Europe, while reaching out to a larger network of social/political/sport activists and organizations in order to establish a backbone for positive change in and through sport. Hosting of the Conference by QSS was exceptional in what was a very ambitious project for this recently established Split branch of qSPORT, which expanded its volunteer network beyond sport participants and its previous capacity.  HBS (The Heinrich Böll Stiftung) supported the Conference through its Croatian and Polish offices in an effort to articulate and coordinate exchange of valuable know-how in the field of social activism between Poland and the region of South East Europe. 

Further information on the event can be obtained from:
Zeljko Blace
Louise Englefield
Zeljko qSPORT,
Mar 7, 2012, 4:46 AM